Coach, teacher, principal says farewell after 47 years
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
Dan Walsh has never been one to count the days until the end of the school year. But, after 16 years of teaching and 33 years in administration, Madison's elementary principal is retiring.
Madison Elementary Principal Dan Walsh sits with his granddaughter Peyton Baum and her mother, Kathy Walsh, on Wednesday during a special program recognizing his years of service.
Students and teachers gathered for an assembly on Wednesday to sing some songs, provide some class-specific farewells and bestow a few honors.
That special recognition included gratitude from Dakota State University's College of Education for Walsh's support in providing opportunities for student teachers; and a governor's proclamation declaring May 21 as Dan Walsh Day.
Walsh, who was at a loss for words by the end of the program, said May 21 is not just a day about him.
"My feeling is it's a day for all the people I've worked with," he said. "I've worked with so many great people."
Looking back, Walsh said, if he were given the opportunity to start over, he wouldn't change a thing.
A 1966 graduate of General Beadle State College (now Dakota State University), Walsh started his career as a sixth-grade teacher but was soon transferred to Garfield Elementary to fill a need for male teachers.
Asked what motivated him to pursue a career in education, Walsh pointed first to relatives who were teachers, but his biggest influence was a phenomenal sixth-grade teacher and a persistent superintendent, he said.
"In high school, the superintendent kept insisting I go to college," Walsh said. "And I thought it would be a rewarding occupation."
At General Beadle, Walsh said, one of his professors encouraged him to pursue an administrative position after teaching for a few years, so it wasn't long before he started working on his master's degree.
"If you start as a teacher, you're always a teacher," he said. "It would be very difficult to be an administrator if you never taught."
For Walsh, coaching was a natural fit as well.
"I was involved in athletics myself," he said. "It was natural to coach. I thought it was important to have the kids take part."
During his 47-year career, he coached for 45 years. Teams have included fifth- and sixth-grade track and basketball for girls and boys; fifth- and sixth-grade wrestling; middle school basketball for girls and boys; ninth-grade girls' basketball; and junior varsity girls' basketball.
Since stepping into administration in 1982, Walsh has always overseen elementary students, but the location has varied from Garfield, Lincoln and Washington school to Gracevale and now Madison Elementary School.
Walsh recalls that Madison's three elementary schools were each set up as K-5 schools with the typical enrollment coming from the area nearest to each school. But he said that wasn't always the case. Class size at one building or another could dictate where a last-minute enrollee was placed.
By reorganizing, Walsh said, Washington School became for students in grades K-2; Lincoln served grades 3 and 4; and Garfield was reserved for fifth -grade.
Walsh can remember initial discussion about the need for one elementary school, as early as 1989, and details fell into place over time to make that project a reality with construction in 2005 and students moving into the building in 2006.
That was when Walsh initially planned to retire. In fact, he did so briefly in 2005 -- until Madison's other elementary principal accepted an administrative job in a different district, and Walsh was asked to continue as principal.
"It's amazing the difference we see here," Walsh said, referring to the new elementary building. Each elementary building had its challenges with multiple levels, outdated construction and lack of handicapped accessibility. There were also no safety or security features.
Today's elementary school has multiple layers of security with doors that automatically lock when closed and security doors that prevent access to either classroom wing.
Madison worked within its existing capital outlay budget to finance the construction of the elementary school. As a result, two additional fifth-grade classrooms were immediately added. But, Walsh said, the district wasn't able to include everything they wanted in the new school.
"We were going to have a second computer lab and a science room," Walsh said.
The local PTO was a huge help in filling a need at the new school. Walsh said not only did that organization purchase several pieces of equipment for the playground, but it furnished the school library and the sign near the street.
Walsh is quick to say that teamwork is the cornerstone to a well-operated school.
"It's so important that teachers work together," he said. "I've been very lucky to work with lots of team players."
Walsh said his biggest challenge in retirement will be getting used to no set schedule. He hopes to spend more time with his grandchildren and possibly travel to Ireland.
©Madison Daily Leader 2013
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